The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Syzygy”, “Grotesque”, & “Piper Maru”
"Great, High Noon in Hong Kong"
Dragging myself away from Jessica Jones to write this is such sweet sorrow but hey! Ratboy’s back. And he’s brought another cliffhanger.
Someone did a double bill of Carrie and The Craft and this was the result. I’m certain of it. Also, Ryan Reynolds!
So, in this episode, two teenage girls who’ve developed unique powers due to astrological mumbo jumbo start taking out their bored angst on everyone around them. We’re in the small town of Comity, where a bunch of teenage boys have bit the dust in the space of a few months and the townspeople are convinced a Satanic cult is afoot. They’re all worked up in a frenzy, digging up graves and forming lynch mobs and carrying weapons where they shouldn’t. Everyone’s behaviour is disrupted by the strange alignment in the cosmos, including that of our heroes, who are dispatched to the town to investigate the claims of Satanism.
From the off, it’s clear that Scully isn’t even in the *vicinity* of fucking around. She’s miffed to hear that the two witnesses to Ryan Reynolds’ murder (he’s hanged off a cliff in the opening scene), who happen to be our two culprits Margi and Terri, were interviewed together. They recounted an identical story about Satanic altars and baby sacrifice and Scully frowns, exasperatedly pointing out that these details could have easily been gleaned from newspaper reports. She talks about how, of all the reported incidences of Satanism across the US in the past while, none have been properly substantiated and nearly all originate in some form of rumour panic (essentially, a game of telephone run amok). Her heightened impatience throughout the episode is matched by Mulder’s turning so laconic he’s almost catatonic. He’s of course willing to at least entertain the idea of there being Satanic types about, pointing out that while Scully tends to be “rigid” he likes to keep an open mind. Well, he says she tends to be rigid in a wonderful way, but in the case at hand claims he doesn’t know what’s gotten into her.
Margi and Terri, released after questioning, proceed to set poor Ryan’s body on fire at his own funeral. The coffin combusts right in front of the mourners, challenging even Dana’s calm. After examining the remains, she determines that combustible embalming fluid may be the culprit. Mulder’s too busy pointing out a weird mark on Ryan’s body that allegedly looks like a horned beast.
He asks Scully to get some photos, if it’s not too much trouble, of this ~thing which in no way resembles a horned beast. She responds “sure, fine, whatever” in an impossibly snarky tone while snapping on latex gloves. If I didn’t know it was the cosmos affecting their behaviour, I’d say they were angry at how completely in love they are, but that’s just me.
Margi and Terri’s next target is an innocent basketball player at their school who had the misfortune to knock some drinks over them. They squash him in the bleachers, like what Elijah Wood did to the alien monster thing in The Faculty. They’ve also taken a shining to one of the other players, Scott, and decide to affably off his girlfriend during the world’s most 90s birthday party which involves ouija boards and Bloody Mary.
Mulder has, in the meanwhile, spoken to an astrologist who declares that the town is losing its marbles. Nothing too revolutionary there, but she refuses any further insight until he comes back during working hours with a functional credit card. The townspeople have dug up a bag of what appear to be infant bones in the field and cluster towards the home of the local pediatrician, whose name was on the bag. During questioning, he reveals he sold the bag at a garage sale to a pair of teenage girls (that would be Terri and Margi). Scully discovers the bones belong to a dog – one of the girls’ dogs, to boot – and releases him. She tackles Mulder, saying his behaviour is “highly questionable” and declares she’s going back to DC. Mulder says Detective White, the poor woman in charge of this township of lunatics, just needs their help. It hits a nerve. Back at their motel later, Scully smokes (!) and mutters derisively about “Detective White! Needs our help! Detective White!” Next door, Mulder mixes something yellow and disgusting with vodka and watches television. Something is very rotten at the Bureau, lads.
Detective White arrives in Mulder’s room, concerned cos someone’s made a threat against her cat. There are some leading exchanges and they end up on the bed, just in time for Scully to burst in and announce there’s been another death. Our heroes’ foul mood and inability to decide who should drive to the scene yields this glorious exchange.
Scully and Detective White attempt to hold off the townspeople’s roving mob. Mulder goes back to the astrologist. In the meantime, Terri and Margi have an argument and accidentally impale the object of their affections. They head off in different directions; one approaching Mulder and the other Scully to implicate one another in the killings. Mulder, now with a working credit card, has learned from the astrologist that a rare planetary alignment is making everyone go loopy and if someone has the misfortune to be born on that particular day in a certain year, all the energy of the cosmos would be concentrated upon them. Remembering that one of the girls had mentioned it being her birthday earlier, Mulder realises what’s happening. He and Scully bring their suspects in to the police station, where the two girls promptly have a Carrie-off and cause every gun in the place to start firing. Scully has the wherewithal to take the magazine out of hers, but everyone else hits the deck like eejits. Mulder manages to drag one of the girls into a cupboard and lock her in, tossing in the other when she comes after her. The mob arrives and our heroes, in glorious unison, yell at them to put away their illegal weapons.
Shortly thereafter, the clock strikes midnight and the magic passes. When White opens the cupboard she discovers Terri and Margi weeping in one another’s arms. The mob takes one look at the crying girls and decides it was indeed Satanists causing all the hassle, before jovially disbanding. Their leader was the school principal, which isn’t at all unsettling. Case resolved and everyone goes back to normal.
As our heroes depart, Scully adjusts the seat in the car so she can reach the pedals. Girl, I know that feel. You should see the driver’s seat in my car. There’s about 10 centimetres between the wheel and my face, like. She and Mulder bicker about directions as they drive out of town. What an enjoyably disposable episode. I was actually greatly enjoying reading deeper significance into their behaviour and frenzied barbs at one another until I realised the ~cosmos was doing it, so unfortunately all my shipper theories have to be parked for the present time. But still, this was fun. The insults they level at each other are glorious. I felt like I was watching latter day Han and Leia, shouting at each other every opportunity they get while furiously suppressing their throbbing desire to just kiss already. It is nice, even if it wasn’t really natural behaviour, to see Scully cast off the shackles of propriety. She’s unfailingly professional but her extreme impatience and frustration here is surely just 2 years of annoyance finally spilling over. Let it all out, Dana. It’s healthier this way. Punch things occasionally if you need to, even if the only thing around to wallop is your partner. He deserves it most of the time.
This one was really weird and confusing. Mulder’s behaviour in it was really off. It’s not unusual for him to act obsessive or antisocial, but he kinda went from 0 to 100 real fast and it was a touch bewildering. Maybe it’s because the last two episodes have been quite light-hearted in many respects, and his behaviour therein was more in keeping with his kookier side, but this one goes to some dark places and the way he’s depicted seems at odds with the continuity of the narrative. Then again, it’s possible he spends the episode being influenced by some unseen murderous demon, so there’s that.
An immigrant man is arrested for murder after several young men are found horrifically mutilated. The suspect, Mostow, is an artist from Uzbekistan who spent the better half of his 20s in a psychiatric facility, so his claims of being compelled to kill by a demon aren’t being wholly entertained. Mulder is asked to consult by beloved Skinner after another victim is discovered. This latest one was killed while Mostow was already in custody, but it bears all the hallmarks of the other crimes. Scully is quick to suggest a copycat but details of the mutilations were never made public so it has to be someone else – unless, that is, the killer is one of the cops on the case.
The agent leading the investigation is named Patterson, and it turns out he and Mulder have some history. Patterson is one of the few at the FBI Academy who never had time for Mulder and his crackpot theories. (I don’t think anyone at the academy had time for Mulder’s crackpot theories. They did have time for his disarming intellect and sharp instincts, though.) Scully knows him by reputation and is pleased at having the opportunity to meet him, but her joy soon fades when Patterson turns out to be unforgiveably rude and dismissive. She’s taken aback, noting that the man was the inspiration for multiple recruits to join the Bureau. Mulder however dismisses him sourly. He says Patterson had a saying, that to catch a killer you have to study his art, but in Patterson’s case it’s more like if you want to catch a monster, you become one yourself.
Patterson is Red from That 70s Show.
Just so we all know.
Mulder is irritable and shifty in the extreme for most of this episode. After they discover Mostow’s dingy studio is full of portraits of gargoyles, he starts investigating their historical origins. Gargoyles are condemned souls turned to stone, and Mulder becomes fixated with damnation and darkness and the monster which lurks inside us all. His behaviour starts to freak Scully out pretty quickly, especially when he starts napping in Mostow’s studio and they discover clay gargoyles containing the bodies of more victims. One of Patterson’s men informs her that Patterson doesn’t think anywhere near as poorly of Mulder as it may seem. He’s fond of talking up his abilities after a few beers, apparently, and Scully goes to Skinner to confirm that Patterson actually requested Mulder for the case. Mulder’s behaviour quickly becomes more erratic. He falls asleep at the studio one night and is disturbed by some mysterious figure. He’s convinced this is the demon Mostow was on about. Scully doesn’t see him for a few days, and then enters his apartment to find it covered in drawings of gargoyles.
After a heated exchange at the studio, Scully confronts Patterson. He says Mulder just needs to do what he does and tells her not to get in his way. Please, mate. She knows. Far more than you ever will. As she leaves, she notices a knife stuck under the wheel of a police car. On investigating it further, she realises this knife was used in the killings and was removed from an evidence lock-up. What’s more, Mulder’s prints are on it. Skinner calls her in and, off the record, reveals he too is worried about Mulder.
Scully calls the agent she spoke to earlier, Nemhauser, but is surprised when Mulder answers the phone. He’s still at the studio and has been rambling around at night, slashing at things with the knife. Scully tells him to stay put and hightails it over to get him. Mulder’s since discovered Nemhauser, dead and encased in a clay gargoyle, and Patterson’s there too with his hands all covered in clay. He twigs that Patterson’s the copycat killer. Scully arrives and the two of them attempt to talk him down. Patterson’s disorientated and confused and attempts to flee but falls off a ledge on the roof. They call an ambulance and he’s saved, but in the final scene is locked up in an institution screaming that he didn’t kill anyone. Mulder, in voiceover, wonders if all the horror of the job can get to an agent to such an extent that he snaps, and becomes the evil he was sent to stop.
I…don’t know how I feel about this one. It’s not bad, per se, and certainly atmospherically it evokes a consummate sense of dread. But I don’t think it makes a great deal of sense. Mulder’s behaviour is so strange that I *guess* he’s supposed to have been swallowed up by whatever was possessing Mostow – assuming something did possess Mostow – but then Patterson is either similarly possessed or else just lost his mind enough to kill people. I feel like all this was missing was one of those voiceovers from Criminal Minds where they quote poetry about how inherently screwed up we all are.
Reflecting further, I’m deducing there was no demon, and Mulder merely got caught up in the twisted nature of the case. He has form in this area, after all, especially when it comes to protecting the innocent. Patterson may simply have been consumed by the case to the extent that he ended up inheriting his quarry’s delusions. A killer so twisted and, yes, grotesque can’t be easy to grapple with, and blaming it all on a demon is an obvious way of dissociating from the horror (as Scully points out early on). Mulder was having weird visions during his sleepovers at the studio, but the place looks like the psychiatric cell Michael Myers was kept in so you’d expect your subconscious to lose the run of itself.
Anyway, parking this here and moving on cos the next one’s awesome. If you’ve insights, please share in the comments. Otherwise, aliens!
And Ratboy. Who’s been body-snatched. Christ. Can NOTHING go right in Alex Krycek’s life?
This was some rollercoaster. Another cliffhanger, which this show does annoyingly often and is especially cruel given my beloved Skinner’s been shot. I was distressed when that happened, but assuming he has to survive the next several seasons to reappear in the new series does make it slightly less troubling. I’m so offended though. How very dare you, you cretin.
So! Piper Maru is so named for a French ship which goes looking for (and finds) a downed WWII aircraft. It’s also so named, if I’m not mistaken, for the little one Gillian Anderson had when she took her S02 hiatus. Love it. As ever with the alien mythos episodes, a bunch happens in this, so bear with me for length!
In the opening scenes, the French crew searching for the aircraft get more than they bargained for. The diver, Gauthier, sees a face in the plane with black, cloudy eyes. His crewmates lose contact with him and when they finally manage to pull him up, he acts as if everything’s fine. The ship later sails into port in San Diego, where all the crew bar Gauthier are hospitalised with severe radiation burns. Mulder gets a tip about the ship and does some digging. He discovers its last known coordinates match those where a ship named the Talapus (bum bum bum!) dug up what he believes to be an alien ship and what Scully believes to be a Russian sub. The French government have classified any further information, but Mulder’s already checked to ensure the Piper Maru crew weren’t in the vicinity of nuclear testing sites. He proposes going to examine the injured sailors.
Before this however, Scully gets some bad news from Skinner. He informs her that the investigation into her sister’s murder is being made inactive. It’s been five months and the cops haven’t managed to dig up any leads (Ratboy, you are so long overdue a belt in the face with a chainsaw). Scully steels herself and goes to leave. She stops at the door, turns and reflects on how amazing it is that with all their modern resources they can link killers to crime scenes where there’s no evidence or clear motivation, but in the case of her sister, shot in a well-lit apartment building by someone who left the gun at the crime scene, they can’t get enough to even keep the case open. Skinner tries to suggest it’s not a matter of interest, but she refutes him, saying “it has everything to do with interest, just not yours and not mine.” Oh, Dana. Everything is agony.
Her emotion manifests in her discussion with Mulder about the Piper Maru. She marvels at the way he insists on working through ridiculous evidence that so many other agents would just throw away. He jovially replies that this is why he’s in the basement, but she says he’s down there cos “they’re” afraid of him and his relentlessness. Too true. When he’s not acting like a looper cos of an unconfirmed demon creature, Mulder’s a stubbornly persistent hoot. I love little exchanges like this. It’s revealing in the extreme as to why Scully actually puts up with him, as well as demonstrating how close to the chest she keeps her emotions. She chooses to deal with a lot of things alone, and yet I think she draws strength from the tenacity of her partner, knowing that in his case nothing but the stone cold hard truth would ever be enough. When everything else around you turns to mush, there’s something encouraging about someone who, no matter how futile it may seem, absolutely refuses to give in.
They head off to San Diego and examine the burned men. Their conditions are deteriorating. The doctor treating them says the radiation to which they were exposed is on a par with Hiroshima, but it has to be man-made because such levels don’t exist in nature. (Mulder: “not on this planet.” Chortle.) The doc says only one of the men was well enough to leave – Gauthier, the guy who steered them into port. He has an address in San Francisco but there’s no response when Scully attempts to call the house. They go to look over the ship itself, which is being examined by naval investigators. They can’t find any evidence of radiation levels above or below decks. The ship is a mess, as if it’s been ransacked, but other than that it’s in perfect condition. Mulder finds a dive suit covered in a black, gooey substance, while Scully finds a map with the words “Zeus Faber” marked on it. They review a tape of the dive and spot the submerged plane. Scully identifies it immediately as a North American P-51 Mustang. Apparently her dad and brothers used to build WW2 model planes when she was smaller. She reckons she knows someone she can ask about what the dive crew may have been exposed to.
Gauthier, back at his house, is searching wildly through some files. His wife arrives home and goes to greet him. He attacks her, turning on the freaky black eye things. When she leaves the house later, her eyes are similarly glazed over. I’m intrigued. I haven’t seen these eyes before, I don’t think, so I’m trying to figure out what alien subplot we’re dealing with here. The Talapus was referenced in the episode with the hybrids and death camps and medical experiments, but the (alleged) downed Russian sub made an appearance in the episodes with the shapeshifting bounty hunter. I don’t remember anyone in those episodes having these black eyes going on. Is this is a new type of alien/hybrid creature (welcome!) or a spin-off from one of the others? I guess it’ll reveal itself eventually. Let’s keep trucking.
Our heroes split up at this point, with Scully following up her lead on what the dive crew may have been exposed to. She visits Commander Johansen, an old friend of her dad’s. When she reaches the base he lives on, she sees children playing together and has flashbacks to playing games with her sister. Her eyes well up. It’s emosh.
Johansen is old and at first appears to be a bit infirm. He claims his memory isn’t what it used to be. He can’t recall anything about the P-51 and can’t think of anyone to refer her to, so Scully thanks him and goes to leave. On her way out, she explains that they’re trying to figure out how a dive crew were exposed to radiation, in the hopes they can find a way to save them. She then starts talking about the base stirring up memories of playing games outside when she was little. She asks Johansen to give her regards to his son, a school friend of hers, and heads off. However, as she leaves the base, Johansen stops her. He tells her his son is dead. He refers to conscience as the voices of the dead, and eventually reveals that he remembers the downed plane. He was sent to find it when he was younger, as an officer on the submarine Zeus Faber. The plane was part of an escort for an atomic bomb but they crashed before they could reach their target. Scully calls Mulder to update him. He isn’t convinced by this explanation, wondering why the French would be salvaging a sunken bomb after 50 years and, further, why the only member of the dive crew not exposed to the bomb’s radiation is the one sent down to find it. He’s off to Hong Kong however, and let’s recap why.
While Scully was at the base, Mulder went looking for Gauthier. He found the house all torn up and, while sifting through papers, retrieved a letter marked with the name Kallenchuk Salvage Brokers. Gauthier is lying disorientated in one of the other rooms. He’s covered in black goo and can’t seem to remember how he got back to port. When Mulder tries to question him further, he refuses to say anything and asks to speak to the French Consul General. Mulder goes on the Kallenchuk trail instead. He finds an office but is informed by an assistant calling herself Geraldine that Mr Kallenchuk is out of town. Unbeknownst to Mulder, she has a sawn off shotgun trained on him from under the table.
Mulder parks outside and keeps watch. A bunch of French agents roll up later, but Geraldine slips out in her car. He follows her to the airport, where she boards a plane to Hong Kong and he gets the aforementioned call from Scully. He hasn’t enough time to explain why he’s running off to Hong Kong, so he tells her to keep digging for more info on the plane and heads off.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, Skinner’s been minding his own business and getting lunch. A bunch of surly suits come up and threaten him, insinuating he should keep his mouth shut about a certain case involving a certain someone’s murdered sister. When prompted, they say they’re from the intelligence community. Skinner mutters, “remind me not to move there” and walks out. Darling man. Your inability to give even the slightest hint of a fuck is what makes you bulletproof. At least in my eyes. (Taylor Swift’s “Fearless” playing in the distance)
Scully keeps chatting to Johansen. He tells her about his time on the Zeus Faber sub. They found the downed aircraft, but were prevented from leaving by a Japanese destroyer. Within a few days, some of the crew began to develop burns. The injuries were like nothing any of them had seen and they began to suspect it had something to do with the plane. The captain however refused to leave the area. When one of the sick men pulled a gun and demanded they make a run for it, the captain wrestled him to the ground, much to XO Johansen’s horror. He decided mutiny was their only shot at survival and sealed the captain (who, presumably unbeknownst to Johansen, had the creepy black eyes thing going on) in with the sick men. When they got back to Pearl Harbour, the men in the room were either dead or dying. Only 7 men out of a crew of 144 lived. They never received any explanation.
Out in Hong Kong, Mulder catches up with Geraldine. Or rather, Jerry. With a J. She’s selling government secrets, and Mulder demands to know who told her where to find the downed plane. She won’t divulge her sources so Mulder handcuffs them together and drags her out. He takes her to the Kallenchuk office in Hong Kong and kicks in the door.
Jerry is wonderfully irritated when she realises Krycek and Mulder know each other. She exclaims “great, High Noon in Hong Kong” before being kicked out into the hall and unceremoniously shot by French agents. Mulder, who’s still handcuffed to Geraldine and stuck on the other side of the door, assumes Krycek is the one who’s been selling her info. When they hear the kerfuffle outside, Ratboy does a runner. I’m gonna be honest, lads, his appearance elicited an audible “OH MY GOD” on my couch, mainly cos he got a haircut but also cos I think I’m finally starting to feel a little sorry for him. Just a little. He’s still a murdering scumbag but he’s also a pawn in the world’s worst game of cosmic chess and, like all good boy scouts, he just wanted to do a good job. It’s kind of tragic really.
Anyway, Mulder manages to free himself from the handcuffs and bolts out the window before the agents burst in. They see him across the street but before they can pursue him, Mrs Gauthier – who followed Mulder to Hong Kong – turns on the freaky eyes and leaves them all wailing in the hallway with severe burns.
Back in DC, Skinner’s ordering lunch when a bad-tempered fellow diner starts getting up in the waitress’s face about a payphone. Being the excellent human he is, he attempts to intervene but is shot in the chest for his troubles. I gasped, lads. My beloved is laid up in the hospital for the foreseeable future. Scully gets a call from his secretary, and immediately hightails it to the hospital to keep an eye. Also, Skinner’s shooter was totally the dude hanging out with Ratboy when he shot Missy. I didn’t recognise him at first but at least now it’s completely obvious who ordered the hit.
Out in Hong Kong, Krycek’s at the airport looking for a flight to DC. Mulder catches him, headbutts him (beaut), and takes his gun. Krycek starts wailing that he didn’t shoot Mulder’s dad. Pull the other one, you little shit. Unless you had a gremlin on your shoulder you were the only one reflected in that bathroom mirror. We may not have seen you pull the trigger, but I don’t think you’d have attempted to stop anyone who did. Mulder demands the digital tape (ah, doesn’t it feel like an eternity since we’ve talked about that tape?) from him. Ratboy says he doesn’t have it, and he couldn’t sell it cos it was encrypted and all the info was worthless. That’s a fair point. He says the tape is in a locker in DC and tells Mulder that if he lets him go, he’ll bring him to the tape and tell him who killed his dad.
Mulder agrees and sends him into the bathroom to clean himself up before they catch their flight. Eep. Mrs Gauthier follows him in, unseen by Mulder, and flashes the black eyes at him. When Ratboy emerges, he too is afflicted. Urghhhh. Fade to black; another cliffhanger.
Well! Lots of detail here, but what a tremendous episode. I kinda wish all of them were about the alien conspiracy thread(s) tbh.
OK, so, to recap: these black-eyed people haven’t been spotted before, no? Unless I’m hugely mistaken, I don’t recall ever seeing them. However, one of them was in the sunken Mustang plane, which was in the same spot as the Russian sub/alien ship, so presumably these alien types are of a similar breed to the shapeshifters. Or they’re another type of shapeshifter, who only need access to your eyes. Does that seem about right?
The craft dug up from that site yielded alien bodies or specimens of some kind, to boot. These were used in the experiments at the death camps by the Japanese. (And a Japanese destroyer ringed in the Zeus Faber when she tried to salvage the plane.) Is that fair to say? I feel like I’m getting my wires crossed, because I remember Mulder seeing the alien ship in the train two-parter a few episodes back but I also remember the Russian sub which the shapeshifter commandeered last season and I’m pretty sure they were two separate things. Maybe it’ll become clearer in the next one. If I’m way off base here, please advise!
Another thing: Ratboy, I just…I despair. I do. Did someone reject you in college, plunging you into a spiral of indignant rage which saw you join the Bureau and eventually the CSM’s personal assassin squad in an effort to prove yourself worthy, only for everything to still end up going horribly wrong? You’re a scapegoat for the unworthy, and I’m torn between wanting to punch you senseless and give you some kind of reluctant hug. Thanks for cutting your hair, though, I do appreciate it. Your eyelashes are your best feature.
Also, Dana :( Just all the sads in all the world. I really hope she gets some justice over what happened to Missy. Bringing down her killer means bringing down Krycek and the chain of command all the way up to the CSM – though presumably the CSM wouldn’t be so easily implicated and they’d just make Ratboy out to be a lone psycho or something – so I feel like this particular thread may never be properly resolved, but I just want her to have some closure. All the faith in the world won’t be enough to compensate for such a cruel loss, and all the reminders she saw at the base in this episode must have been like daggers in the heart.
Overall, this was excellent – twisty and convoluted as all get-out and oh so enjoyable because of it. The more complex these episodes get, the more hooked I become. I assume they all have to unravel at some point and based on previous comments I get the impression everything may not add up, but that kinda feels fitting, in some sense? If a bunch of aliens were killing each other right under our noses – completely separately to the random killings and experiments we were carrying out ourselves – it kinds feels like it’s none of our business. I’ll settle for a healthy amount of explanation and a steady soupcon of continued mystery. They have to still have something to dig up in the new series, after all.
Til next week, friends!
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